Stereotyping is a harmful tool used to create assumptions about certain races, religions and other group identifiers. Within the entertainment industry, certain stereotypes are used to provide dramatic or comedic relief. Specifically, the portrayal of Asian people on-screen has been and continues to be very problematic.
Asians and other minorities are cast into specific “types.” Asians are depicted as either the “model minority,” obsessed with education and success, or vilified as prostitutes. These stereotypes lump all Asians into certain categories.
The TV show “American Housewife,” a good example of this stereotyping, depicts Chinese Americans as emotionless but extremely driven — the parents, namely their mother, are intense figures, drawing on the “tiger mom” trope.
Although it’s a sitcom, “American Housewife” still has the obligation to portray people authentically and realistically. Ali Wong’s character acts as a controlling and apathetic mother to her four children, pushing them to play an instrument and study at a young age.
Additionally, the entertainment industry casts Asians interchangeably among Asian roles. In the show “Fresh off the Boat,” Korean American actor Randall Park plays the patriarch in a Taiwanese family.
Although I am a fan of Park, he does not fit the criteria to play a Taiwanese man, and by casting him, the casting directors of this show imply there are no differences amongst East Asian nationalities. On the contrary, each identity has a unique culture and history that should be reflected in the casting.
In the show “Gilmore Girls,” Keiko Agena, a Japanese American actress, was cast as Lane Kim, a Korean American character.
In these examples, casting directors pose the counterargument that they hired the best actor or actress for the role, disregarding nationality, but there are no doubt a plethora of equally qualified and talented people who reflect the different cultural identities and backgrounds of the roles they are hiring for.
TV characters are meant to be caricatures of people we see in our daily lives. Shows want us to connect to them, but how are Asian American audiences supposed to connect if they see a Korean American character being played by a Chinese American actor?
An even more problematic casting decision came in 2015 when Scarlett Johansson was hired to play a Japanese woman in “Ghost in the Shell.”
Johansson, a white woman, was somehow cast in the role of an Asian woman, thus taking the role away from immensely qualified Japanese actresses. By taking the role, Johansson whitewashed the movie.
The American entertainment industry is already extremely whitewashed since most directors are white and most award-recognized actors and actresses are white. By hiring a white woman to play an Asian woman, the production company essentially dismissed the entire culture and history of Japan.
To improve representation of Asians in film and TV, more movies such as “Parasite” need to be recognized at the international level. For those unfamiliar, “Parasite” is a South Korean movie that won Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards, and the film’s director, Bong Joon Ho, became the first Asian director to win Best Director.
We need to recognize the importance of all cultures and nationalities when telling stories. We cannot simply say all Asians are the same by interchangeably hiring them, typecasting them or writing them in stereotypical roles. All people — regardless of ethnicity or race — are three-dimensional and unique, so they should be represented as such and not used as some trophy for diversity and inclusion.